Most people that have been diagnosed with cancer will undergo some form of surgery, in many cases both for diagnosing and for removing the cancer. Removing tumors can be an effective method for curing cancer, if the cancer is caught in early stages, before it has had a chance to spread to other areas of the body. Cancer surgery is often combined with other methods of treatment.
Usage of Surgery in Cancer Treatment
Surgery can be effective in many stages of treatment for cancer, including:
- Relieving symptoms
- Primary treatment
- Removal of a portion of cancerous tissue
Surgery can be used to prevent cancer if there is a very high likelihood that the patient will develop cancer in particular organs or tissues. Certain cancers are hereditary, and the presence of specific chemicals in the blood may alert doctors to the strong possibility that the patient will develop the cancer. In this case, the patient will undergo surgery to remove the organ or tissue before the cancer has a chance to develop. This is typically only done when the type of cancer is extremely aggressive, and waiting for the cancer to develop could put the patient’s life at risk.
For diagnosis and staging, a biopsy is done. During a biopsy, a small piece of tissue is removed from the organ or tissue that is suspected to have cancer. This can be done in a number of ways, most commonly with a fine needle, open surgery, or endoscopy. Endoscopy is a procedure in which a tube is inserted into a body area, and a tool with a tiny camera is fed into the tube. Tools may also be inserted through the tube, and used to remove the tissue sample while the camera provides the physician with visual feedback. Open surgery is the most invasive, and is avoided if possible, especially if the surgery is strictly for diagnostic purposes.
Surgery may be used to relieve symptoms if a tumor is causing pain or pressure. In cases where the removal of a tumor would affect the patient adversely, only a portion of the tumor or tumors may be removed. This may help relieve pain, and help the body to gather natural immunity to begin to fight the cancer. Other forms of treatment are often combined with surgery in these types of cases.
Surgery can be effective as the primary means of treatment if the cancer is localized and has not had a chance to spread. In many cases, removing the tumor or tumors can essentially cure the patient’s cancer, as all of the cancer is removed from the body. A portion of healthy tissue surrounding the tumor may be removed as well; this can decrease the risk of exposed tissue developing mutations after the cancerous tissue has been removed. This is not always successful, however, and in some cases the cancer metastasizes and is found at a later date.
Types of Cancer Surgery
The type of surgery that must be performed to remove cancer depends on where in the body the cancer is located and whether the cancer has completely infiltrated the area or organ. In some cases, just the tumor and surrounding tissue can be removed to rid the body of cancer, while in other cases, the entire organ or area must be removed. Specialized types of surgery are sometimes used to preserve healthy tissue or maneuver around delicate areas.
Specialized types of surgery that are performed to remove cancer include:
- Laser surgery
- Microscopically controlled surgery
Laser surgery uses beams of light to kill cancer cells without harming healthy tissue. Laser surgery can also be helpful in reaching certain areas of the body. Electrosurgery uses a similar technique with electrical current. Cryosurgery utilizes extremely cold temperatures to kill cancer cells. Microscopically controlled surgery is used in areas that are extremely sensitive and easy to damage, such as the eyes.
Risks of Cancer Surgery
With any type of surgery, there is a risk to the patient. Invasive surgeries put the patient at risk of blood loss and infection. Any type of surgery carries a risk of damage to healthy tissue or organs in the event of error. Cancer surgery also carries the risk that the cancer may redevelop or that tumors may be missed within the body.
“Cancer.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical education and Research, 13 Jul 2013. Web. 15 Nov 2013. <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cancer-surgery/CA00033>.
“How is Surgery Used in Cancer Treatment.” Caring4Cancer. P4 Healthcare, 15 Aug 2010. Web. 15 Nov 2013. <https://www.caring4cancer.com/go/cancer/treatment/surgery>.
” Understanding Cancer Surgery: A Guide for Patients and Families.” American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society, n.d. Web. 15 Nov 2013. <http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/treatmenttypes/surgery/inde&xgt;.